Michaels deal aces rabbit test

ON MEDIA

February 10, 2006|By RAY FRAGER

You silly rabbit, Michaels is for NBC.

Al Michaels officially made his move yesterday, when NBC announced he would become the play-by-play voice of the network's new Sunday night NFL package this fall. But after Michaels initially had committed to continue on Monday Night Football as it moved from ABC to ESPN, the all-sports network and the Walt Disney Co. didn't just let him walk away from his contract.

No, they kicked some tail. Some cottontail.

As part of the deal releasing Michaels, ESPN received:

Rights to Friday coverage - for which it paid - of the next four of golf's Ryder Cups, along with extended highlights.

Extended Olympic highlights, starting with Turin and through the 2012 Summer Games.

Monday Night Football promos during NBC's Sunday night games through 2011.

Expanded highlights from other NBC sports properties, including Notre Dame football, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

And for Disney:

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Oswald, it turns out, was created by Walt Disney himself in 1927, but Universal, a corporate brother of NBC, has owned the rights. According to the Disney Web site, "When Walt lost the rights to Oswald, he came up with the character of Mickey Mouse." According to another Web site, The Encyclopedia of Disney Shorts, "If you take Mickey Mouse, stretch out his ears a bit and give him a little bigger nose and a little larger body, you basically have Oswald."

And if you take the play-by-play man, the analyst, the director and the producer who did ABC's Monday Night Football and shift them to another network, you basically have MNF on Sunday night.

Maybe it won't work out that way, but that's what NBC has now that Michaels is joining John Madden, Drew Esocoff and Fred Gaudelli on the Sunday package. And that's what made Michaels want to change his mind and go to NBC.

Michaels said in a teleconference yesterday: "As the weeks went on [during 2005], I came to realize how much I was going to miss these people."

He said he didn't have concerns about working with ESPN.

"It was more a case of me being very comfortable ... that far overrode any question of it working out with ESPN," Michaels said.

NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said: "I'm sort of like a kid in a candy store. I set out with a dream last April of getting the best - the best play-by-play person in the business in Al, the best sports analyst of any kind, John, the best studio host, of the last two generations at least, in Bob Costas, and in Cris Collinsworth the most honored studio analyst, ever actually."

Winter wonderland

Here's the thing about the Winter Olympics. Sure, NBC has 416 hours of coverage. But it's all bite-sized.

"The calendar of action isn't so overwhelming that one feels lost," Jim Lampley, NBC's daytime and late-night host, said in a teleconference Wednesday. " ... It's somewhat easier for sports consumers."

To make it even easier for the sports consumer - which, besides my own amusement, is why I'm here - we'll highlight NBC's plans:

Coverage will air on NBC (WBAL/Channel 11 and WRC/Channel 4), USA Network, CNBC and MSNBC.

Because figure skating is close to the be-all and end-all of the Winter Games when it comes to American television - "I didn't know there were other sports at the Olympics until I got to my 16th Olympics," skating commentator Dick Button joked - USA Network will carry a nightly show devoted to the sport, Olympic Ice, from 6 to 7. The program begins tonight and runs through Feb. 24.

Turin, Italy, is six hours ahead of U.S. Eastern time, so you're not going to see much that's live on NBC.

My favorite number from the list provided by NBC: 18,730. That's pounds of pasta ordered for the network's commissary in Turin. As the locals say, mangia.

Like the way NBC's personnel are dressed? Because there is no red carpet and no Joan and Melissa to ask the commentators what they're wearing, I'll pass this along: The male studio announcers are being outfitted in Armani and the women in Liz Claiborne.

Lampley noted how the audience doesn't watch the Winter Olympics in the same way viewers do traditional sports.

"There's a very different way sports fans approach the Olympics," he said. "Fans tend to come at winter sports from the inside out. ...

"You're interested in Bode Miller ... so you go to the trouble to learn about alpine skiing."

That's the opposite of the way a fan who likes football would make it a point to find out about, say, Ben Roethlisberger.

Lampley recalled his first Olympics - the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck - when conventional wisdom said ABC was mad to carry 48 hours of the Games. So even though the total is now approaching 10 times 1976's amount, Lampley said it still may not be enough.

"I don't think we have yet reached the high-water mark for the public's appetite for the Olympics," he said.

Just asking

Was it the Pittsburgh Steelers that turned you off? The Super Bowl received a 41.6 national rating, but in Baltimore the game rated more than 3 points lower at 38.0.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

Read Ray Frager's blog at baltimoresun.com/mediumwell

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